Henry Orenstein, Transformers Creator and Poker Innovator, Dies Aged 98

Henry Orenstein, famed for creating the Transformers line of toys and revolutionizing the way poker is played, has died at the age of 98.

According to Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, the Polish-born innovator passed away this week at his home in New Jersey.

Born in Hrubieszów in 1923, he endured the horror of his parents being murdered in the Holocaust before he and his brothers were transferred to a Nazi concentration camp in Germany.

After moving to the U.S in 1947, he embarked on a career as a toymaker, where he pitched his vision for a line of transforming toys to then industry giant Hasbro—a move that then CEO Alan Hassenfeld said was "the catalyst" for the legendary Transformers toys that were a huge hit in America.

"Henry basically had a sense that Transformers was going to be something that would be transformational for the toy industry," Hassenfeld told Newsweek in 2016. "To be able to take a car and, with a little bit of dexterity, change it into another toy, that was something magical."

The toys, which debuted in the 1980s, proved hugely popular and have gone on spawn a number of blockbuster movies.

Also included in Orenstein's toy-making legacy are the Johnny Lightning racing cars and the 1950s doll Betty the Beautiful Bride.

"In less than a year, more than a million and a half of these dolls were sold," he told Yedioth Ahronoth in 1989.

He was also an innovator in how audiences watch poker on TV. A dedicated player who won the 1996 World Series of Poker Seven Card Stud tournament, Orenstein revolutionized how we watch poker at home.

TV broadcasts of poker were in the past not only rare, but incredibly boring for the viewer, as you could not see the cards the players were holding. Orenstein's solution was to invent hole-card cameras, a camera under the glass poker table that displays a players cards for TV viewers at home.

The idea was sold to NBC and led to live poker becoming a TV sport sensation across the globe. He was subsequently elected to the Poker Hall of Fame in 2008.

Orenstein created and served as the executive producer for Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament on Fox Sports Network. He also produced the TV Show High Stakes Poker, which debuted in 2006 and ran until 2011.

He was also known for his philanthropic efforts. In 2017, he and his wife, Susie Orenstein, founded the Orenstein Project in Israel, which according to its website, works to provide "meals and extra-curricular activities for children and teens, the elderly, Holocaust survivors, and unique population groups."

Henry Orenstein
Henry Orenstein attends the launch of Poker Superstars Invitational Tournament on Fox Sports Network on August 10, 2004. The esteemed toymaker has passed away at the age of 98. Jamie McCarthy/WireImage